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How Shivaji pioneered Maratha Navy

Author: Adhish Kumar Sinha
Publication: Myind.net
Date: November 29, 2018
URL:      https://www.myind.net/Home/viewArticle/how-shivaji-pioneered-maratha-navy

Other than historians and students of history, few know that King Shivaji pioneered Maratha Navy. While fighting with Mughals and Adilshah, disturbing events in Kokan and uninvited presence of British Businessmen in the court made him think of Maratha Navy.  He was quick to understand, the rising footfall of British, Dutch, French and Portuguese settlers to Indian coast and their hidden ambitions to rule the nation under the guise of shrewd businessmen. What worried him more was the rise of Janjira Siddhi. He was cruel and involved in mass conversions in the coastal belt. He ruled the sea at his will under Adilshah of VIjapur. Foreign settlers used Janjira Siddhi as a proxy to create the disturbance in the otherwise peaceful coastline of Kokan.

The overall security scenario in the middle of sixteen centuries warranted building of a strong Navy. This was to secure sea lanes of trade, for dominance and to achieve a balance of power in contemporary times. As the strength of Maratha Navy grew under King Shivaji, Marathas’ exported salt and Betel nut to Middle East and planned the exports of spices too.

The Maratha Navy made up of professional soldiers and seamen. They were no pirates or mercenaries but committed to creation of Hindu Empire. King Shivaji had appointed his two trusted Lieutenants Daulat Khan and Mainak Bhandari in the command of Maratha Navy. They were professional seamen, able administrators and well known to terrain of Kokan. In stories related to Marathas Daulat Khan known as Duryasarang means Admiral of the fleet. But, facts need a check. The Marathas used a Portuguese officer as their fleet commander to understand tactics and technology of superior Portuguese Navy.

Sixteenth century Kokan covered with dense forests, infested by venomous serpents and wild animals. In the months of monsoon pounding rains and overflowing rivers, tributaries brought life to the standstill. Road linking to Pune and Satara were absent or in the primitive state and it were difficult to oversee the campaigns from Raigad the capital of Marathas. There was a need to set up safe Military garrisons in Kokan region. King Shivaji in this direction undertook the mass scale construction of sea forts in the Kokan region. Sea forts provided the adequate security for troops and administration in peace and in the monsoon, at the same time served vital supply lines in war. Sea forts were of three types, first built on the entire island. Arnala, Sindhudurg and Khanderi came in this. The second came up on the hills near the coastline as Vijaydurg Kanakdurg and Devgad and they built the third on the hills along the creek. Forts of Gopalgad and Ratnagiri came into this category.

While building the sea forts on the coastal region, King Shivaji gave full attention to building of the powerful fleet. In 1654 Marathas laid keel of the first warship in a creek near Mumbai. The fleet comprised Gallibats (War boats) and Gurabs (Warships). Gurabs laden with heavy artillery guns used for bombardment on coastal batteries, ramparts of sea forts and gave covering fire to attacking armies while Gallibats used to land men and armament in enemy territory. They called another class of the ship as Pal ,it had a single cannon and three masts. At the time King Shivaji in 1874 Maratha Navy had 5000 men and 59 warships of different types.

The construction of sea forts was in line with the norms of war in those days where engagements took place near the coast. The Navy of Marathas mastered the art of coastal warfare. They attacked the land targets by sea routes and annex them from the enemy control. Their approach of attacking warships from the rear and avoided enemy fire from the broadside. Their attacks were swift with surprise. Before the death of King Shivaji Marathas attacked Khanderi island eleven Kilometres from Mumbai to set up their base. British and Siddhi laid the blockade of Khanderi for a long time. Repeated efforts by them could not recapture Khanderi again. That was the strength of Maratha Navy. While in the war of Surat both land and naval forces of Marathas displayed formidable combination and seized huge treasure needed to build the empire.

 The sea forts influenced enemy notice too. The foreign settlers noted the proceedings and being businessmen entered peace treaties with Marathas. It is because of foresight of Shivaji Maharaj who established his garrisons in Kokan forced Portuguese to let go Bombay region to British and concentrate on Goa alone. The Maratha check posts between Bombay and Goa blocked their supply and communication lines. In, 1674 at the time of King Shivaji Portuguese send their ambassador to Raigad with the gift and negotiated peace with Marathas. Strategic Sea forts of Vijaydurg, Sindhudurg, Suvarndurg, Khanderi came up during the time helped Marathas to hasten aggressive policies through valuable asset creation.

King Shivaji was sceptical of British settlers and their intentions. He applied carrot and stick policy with them. In over hundred years it proved him right, Britons made a strong foothold in the land and we lost our freedom.

Shivaji was the first ruler in India to understand the importance of Navy. Strategic thinking and vision could shape his dream of the strong Navy. The Mughals and Sultanates of south came to India via the land route to set up their empires. They did not show much interest to create a Navy. Before Maratha Navy, the encroachments through sea routes were unchecked and led to barbaric and Draconian rule of Siddhi of Janjira.

Investments to create an infrastructure in the form of sea forts and fleet during Shivaji’s time proved vital for future generations. It was like planting a sapling to grow into a large fruit bearing tree of future. Admirals Sidhoji Gujar and Great Kanhoji Angre could convert the tiny fleet to force to reckon with under their command. Kanhoji Angre went further and appointed European ship builders and consultants to modernise the Maratha fleet. Kanhoji Angre utilised and further developed these assets to give his Navy a decisive punch. Marathas ruled Western seas for next hundred years of history without interference. European blue water navies followed the dictate of Marathas and remained subdued when they were powerful.

Maratha Navy of sixteen century set a healthy tradition of joining Navy among the generations in coastal belt. Career in Navy was a pride profession among them.  After the fall of Maratha Empire, the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) recruited young seamen from Kokan. They served under British Officers. And, after 1922 few of them joined Royal Naval Academy to become an officer in RIN. The British officers in that period often appreciate the professionalism, valour and loyalty of Indian sailors served under them

Strong historical events offer inspiration and vital insights for the future. The history of Maratha Navy during Shivaji serves same stimulus to modern day Indian Navy. Seeing the increased role for Navy in Indian subcontinent, India undertook construction of warships in year 1971. In 1965 India gained conventional submarines from Russia. Joining of Nuclear submarine to the fleet has given the deeper dimension to the Navy. In less than a hundred years Navy gained skills and an asset in three dimensions (Air, surface and underwater). An indigenously built aircraft carrier is in a last phase of construction. Today we have made great strides in warship building, weapon delivery systems and in vital marine electronics. The story does not end here, along the entire coastline of India Navy has set up new base establishments including state of art naval academy and Command size garrisons. It is a complete indigenous effort. The galloping progress of Navy is in line with the progress made by sixteenth century Maratha Navy of Shivaji. Strong insights of a history rewritten by able leaders of Indian Navy today. This is a great achievement.

Indians and world have applauded the circumnavigation of the world in a single mast sail boat by Commander Donde, Abhilash Tommy and all women officer crew. It shows commitment of men behind the machine and strong resolve. Large time gap may separate seamen of sixteenth century and men of Navy but guiding principles like high moral, devotion to duty and will to scarify for the nation are same.

Strong presence of Indian Navy in south Asia has evolved through the strategic doctrines of sixteenth century Maratha ruler. The driving technology and warfare may have changed; but terms of references are still same. We must salute the inherited rich legacy as a proud Indians.
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